Being a friend to someone that you think might be in an abusive relationship can feel like an impossible position to be in. You want to help, but you feel like there’s nothing you can do.
You want to wrap your friend up in cotton wool and take them away to a safe place. You want to tell their abusive partner what you think of them, how they've hurt your friend, how angry you are with them for doing that to your loved one. But you can't.
The term ‘domestic abuse’ was long only applied to people who were being physically hit. But in recent years, other forms of abuse have now been recognised within relationships, such as emotional and sexual.
There is a common assumption that with domestic abuse, men are the abusers and women the victims, but this was not the case for the 713,000 men who reported being victims of domestic abuse in 2017.
Anybody can become victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age and background.
There are a lot of signs of domestic abuse, but it can sometimes take a long time for a victim to realise it. This is because abusers are very good at disguising their behaviours in public, around friends and family, and excusing their behaviours for other reasons. Not only is this confusing for a victim, but extremely distressing too.
If you think you could be a victim of domestic abuse, ask yourself if any of the following behaviours apply to your relationship…
- Your partner blames you for abuse or arguments
- Your partner denies that abuse is going on
- Your partner isolates you from your family and friends
- Your partner stops you from going to work, college, university, or social events
- Your partner makes unreasonable demands for you attention
- Your partner accuses you of flirting or having affairs
- Your partner tells you what to wear, is critical of your appearance, tries to tell you where to go, how to behave and what to think
- You partner controls you spending
The above points are all related to emotional abuse. A lot of the time with emotional abuse, a victim may not realise it is happening. Because of the nature of their partner, a victim will often blame themselves for the problematic relationship, even if they acknowledge some of the signs, they still might not believe it. Abusers can be very powerful and manipulative.
You may feel very on edge around your partner if you are a victim of domestic abuse. This is because their behaviour is generally very unpredictable. Intimidation behaviours that are also a major warning sign of domestic abuse are:
- Being threatened by your partner
- Having you belongings destroyed by your partner
- Your partner standing over you and invading your personal space
- Your partner threatening to kill themselves or the children
- Having your emails, texts and letters read by your partner
- Being harassed or followed by your partner
Sexual abuse can also take place in a relationship, and this is also recognised under domestic abuse. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, whether they are male or female, and just because you are in a relationship with someone, that does not mean that they are entitled to sexual intimacy. Some victims of domestic abuse might not recognise that they are being abused sexually, because they are in a relationship with that person. But there is never an excuse for sexual abuse - no means no, regardless of your relationship status, what you wear, where you are, or what you have done in the past. If you are not comfortable with a situation, you should not feel pressured into doing anything you do not want to do.
Has your partner ever:
- Touched you in a way that you don’t want to be touched?
- Made unwanted sexual demands?
- Hurt you during sex?
- Pressured you to have unsafe sex?
- Pressured you to have sex?
If the answer to any of these is yes, it’s important to find out how you can get help. There are many services and charities that offer free help and advice to victims of abuse. Women’s Aid and Refuge are good points of contact for women, and Men’s Advice Line is recommended by the NHS for men.
From the point of view of a family member or friend of a victim, it can be very difficult to know what to say, what to do and how to help for the best. The NHS give this advice for friends of a victim of abuse:
If someone confides in you that they're suffering domestic abuse:
- listen, and take care not to blame them
- acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
- give them time to talk, but don't push them to talk if they don't want to
- acknowledge they're in a frightening and difficult situation
- tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
- support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
- don't tell them to leave the relationship if they're not ready – that's their decision
- ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
- help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
- be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse
For more information on domestic abuse and how to get the right help, visit the NHS website.
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